How Robotics and Automation Will Affect Labor in the Food System

FoodTank:  At an indoor farm in Silicon Valley, California, a mobile robot carries a tray of tiny plants—curly kale, Romaine lettuce, basil—to a robotic arm, which transplants them into a bigger tray to grow to size. In downtown San Francisco, office workers order and pick up quinoa bowls via an automated system without encountering a single employee. In Europe, a “platoon” of semi-autonomous delivery trucks crosses international borders for the first time.

From seed to table, a revolution in technology that prioritizes robotics and automation is on the cusp of transforming the work required to produce, transport, sell, and serve food.

What that shift will mean for the Americans who currently do that work, however, is not fully understood. Tech entrepreneurs talk about how robotics will solve labor shortages and make food system work safer and more efficient. Laborers fear robots will lead to the displacement of millions of workers who are not trained for a new, digital economy while lining the pockets of tech CEOs.

“I keep hearing this story of the robot apocalypse: ‘The robots are coming and they’re going to take everyone’s jobs.’ People are acting like this is going to happen, like it’s a given,” says Doug Bloch, the political director of Teamsters Joint Council 7, a union that represents more than 100,000 workers in California and Nevada. “The technology is a given, it’s coming. The outcomes attached to that technology are not a given at all, and we have a chance to shape them.”  Full Article:

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